The human liver has a remarkable ability to regenerate. If you donate part of your liver through the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital's Liver Transplant Program, both the transplanted piece and the piece that remains will grow to pre-surgery size.
Becoming a living liver donor through the Liver Transplant Program requires several steps: evaluation, surgery and recovery.
Step #1: Evaluation
In order to direct your liver to a specific recipient, such as a relative or friend, our transplant team you will evaluate you in several ways, including:
- Giving a complete medical history
- Having a psychiatric evaluation, to ensure that you fully understand the liver donation process
- Laboratory and image testing to make sure you are in good health
Patients whose donors direct part of their liver to them do not have to wait for an acceptable blood-and-tissue match. Recipients of directed liver donation are often in better general health because of reduced waiting time. Having a living donor liver transplant before the patient is extremely ill results in fewer complications, faster recovery time and better long-term results.
What kind of testing do donors undergo?
Someone who is planning to donate part of their liver must be healthy and psychologically ready to handle the surgery and its recovery. Testing includes:
- A discussion with a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker
- Blood and urine testing
- A chest X-ray and EKG to check heart function
- An MRI of the liver
- An arteriogram of the liver
- Consultations with the transplant physician
Once those are completed, the surgery will be scheduled at a mutually convenient date for both the donor and the recipient.
Step #2: Surgery
How long is the surgery?
The liver donor's surgery takes about five hours and is performed under general anesthesia.
What is the surgery like?
Approximately one-half of the donor's liver and attached blood vessels are removed. This healthy liver tissue is used to replace the recipient's diseased liver.
Step #3: Recovery
How long is the recovery from surgery?
Donating part of your liver is considered major abdominal surgery. You can expect to stay in the Intensive Care Unit for about a day before transferring to the General Surgery Unit for five to seven days.
By the second or third post-operative day, you will be asked to get out of bed and walk. It is normal to experience some pain at the site of the surgery. Pain medication will be available to you.
You should expect to refrain from work and regular household activities for up to six weeks as you recover. During this time, your incision will heal and your liver will regenerate to its normal size.
How will I live with only part of my liver?
Your liver will regenerate in four to six weeks after the surgery. During that time, it is important to take it easy and to try to avoid infections. While the liver is growing to its usual size, your immune system will not be at 100 percent.
Will I have to pay anything?
No. Donors are not responsible for any medical costs associated with the transplant or evaluations. If you receive a bill in error, contact the Financial Coordinator at the Transplant Office.